On a brisk autumn night, the City of Lights is well and truly aglow. As opera lovers take their seats at the Palais Garnier, maidens of couture continue to mine the city’s elite maisons, and followers of Delacroix and da Vinci stream out of the world’s most renowned glass-fronted pyramid. It’s a typical, romantic image of Paris as it was on the eve of November 13, 2015.
On the 14th, a day after the brutal terrorist attacks that claimed 130 lives, the city was at a standstill. But within days, international headlines began to document proud Parisian resilience as football tournaments resumed, museums reopened and diners took to their favorite outdoor eateries once again.
France remains the most visited country in the world, and Paris, of course, is the raison d’être for many of these visits. In spite of all that it has faced, the city continues to revel in its joie de vivre, delivering generously – and more proudly than ever – to its guests in hospitality, luxury experiences and culture.
Paris’s hotel portfolio is plentiful, but an exciting addition is Hotel Molitor – a modern revival of the famed Piscine Molitor. Opened in 1929, Molitor was the French capital’s best-known public swimming pool, and the place to be seen, often visited by celebrities and gentry keen on its modern, art deco design.
The pool operated for 60 years before descending into disuse and becoming home to a significant underground rave scene, though much of the pool’s modern-day fame can be credited to Man Booker winner Life of Pi, whose protagonist is named Piscine after the Molitor. It remained closed until 2014 when it was bought by French hotel group Accor and relaunched as the Hotel Molitor.
Today, the Molitor building offers an authentic homage to the original pool with an accompanying modern design hotel. A substantial $109 million was plunged into the project by investment firm Colony Capital, which spent the funds on stained-glass windows, mosaic tiling, Scandinavian furnishings and design accents which were drawn from the pool’s original yellow-and-blue color scheme.
Exotic tokens such as a spray-painted Rolls Royce in the lobby and graffiti murals complement the hotel’s design focus with pared-back, contemporary luxury taking center stage in the rooms, which come with Bose sound systems, espresso machines and Clarins toiletries.
The pool is of course central to the hotel’s appeal, and while hotel guests are obviously free to use it, a variety of day packages are available to non-guests who wish to swim or visit the spa.
For many, shopping is the priority in Paris, and true aficionados flock to Rue Lafayette and the Champs-Elysées as the one-stop – if slightly overwhelming – destination for all retail needs. For those after a quieter experience, Galerie Vivienne near the Palais-Royal presents an alternative to the more famous locales; it was one of the city’s first shopping malls, and is now home to a curated collection of luxury boutiques.
Built in 1823, the gallery was originally populated by tailors, cobblers, wine shops, drapers and the like, before it lost its appeal to Paris’s grand boulevards – a result of George-Eugène Haussman’s 19th-century revolution of city planning and architecture.
Today, its shop spaces have been repurposed for big names like Jean-Paul Gaultier as well as smaller, local fashion houses, and what is considered by many to be Paris’s best wine shop, Les Caves Legrand. During the day, natural light from the gallery’s long dome atrium illuminates the mosaic walkways and its neoclassical statues, offering shoppers an elegant setting in which to flout their credit limits.
A Wardrobe Revealed
A short walk from the Pont d’Iéna bridge – which crosses the Seine and leads to the Eiffel Tower – is Palais Galliera, a lesser-known fixture on Paris’ list of eminent museums but a haven for the fashion-enthralled.
Though couture has been in the city’s lifeblood since before Marie Antoinette, the process of founding a museum for the art was surprisingly cumbersome. Initial plans were begun in 1907 by the Société de l’Histoire du Costume, which recognized the city’s rising prominence in the field and sought to create a dedicated focal point for its historical significance.
Only in 1977 however, and after various name and venue changes, did the Palais Galliera finally become the museum’s first independent home. Today, visitors can get their fill of stylish collections (all temporary) including haute couture, 18th- and 19th-century costumes, undergarments and accessories.
Through October 23, the current exhibition reveals The Anatomy of a Collection. Who wears what? asks the museum’s website. The garment tells the story of the wearer, from the corsets of Marie Antoinette to a blouse worn by a World War I nurse whose name is lost to history. The collection brings together a hundred pieces of clothing and accessories, including such items as a gown from the wardrobe of the Empress Josephine and a Givenchy two-piece dress worn by Audrey Hepburn. Other well-known names include Sarah Bernhardt, George Sand and the Duchess of Windsor, whose fashions share pride of place with work aprons and convicts’ uniforms.
Toward the city’s péripherique – the ring road encompassing its urban center – are Paris’s grittier edges, where midweek vintage clothing markets overflow with Parisians searching for new trends, and rows of no-frills boulangères tout some of the city’s best baked goods.
A stroll down the famous Rue La Fayette brings you to the intersection of Rue de Faubourg Montmartre and later to Rue Richer and Rue D’Hauteville. Here, in the 10th arrondissement, is a charming, slightly dilapidated district known for its wholesale fur shops and where the city’s bobos (bourgeois bohemians) have begun to occupy cheap loft spaces, surrounded by bistros and cafés.
The 10th is also home to Porte Saint Martin, the site of one of Paris’s old fortified gateways, built during the reign of Louis XIV in 1674. Above the monument’s enormous archways, reliefs depict the military victories of Louis’ heyday, accompanied by a Latin inscription exalting the monarch’s defeat of German, Spanish and Dutch armies.
Approaching from Rue du Faubourg Saint Martin – a slender street inlaid with fromageries and cafés – the monument is an illustrious if incongruous memento of Paris’s historic prominence, and makes for an impressive backdrop as you relax at one of the nearby cafés with a coffee and croissant.
Continuing eastward over the scenic Canal Saint Martin and along Avenue de la République will lead you to the enormous cemetery of Père Lachaise – home to the graves of a variety of artistic greats. Sixties pop legend Jim Morrison, composer Frédéric Chopin and Italian sculptor Amedeo Modigliani are some of those interred in the 108-acre grounds, which are located near the city’s eastern edge in the 20th arrondissement.
The vast complex, which houses close to 70,000 tombs, is navigable thanks to signboards that show how to get to the most visited graves: unsurprisingly, these include The Doors’ Morrison and Oscar Wilde, with other notables including singer Edith Piaf, post-Impressionist painter Georges-Pierre Seurat, playwright Molière and writers Honoré Balzac, Marcel Proust and Gertrude Stein all garnering a steady throughflow of fascinated fans.
Another feature of interest is the Mur des Fédérés, or Wall of the Federalists, which commemorates the evening of May 27, 1871, when the remaining Communard insurgents (supporters of the radical socialist Paris Commune) fought an all-night battle among the cemetery’s tombstones. The arrival of morning revealed just 147 survivors, all of whom were ordered up against a brick wall, shot and buried in a mass grave.
Today, the wall is a moving symbol of the people’s struggle for a common ideal and independence – near to which many leaders of the French Communist Party and the French Resistance have been buried. Though not so uplifting, the monument underlines one of France’s great ordeals and the progress it has made towards peace and prosperity – a heartening reminder that nothing can extinguish this City of Lights.